Vermont Motorsports Magazine

RPM Racing Engines

UNDER THE HOOD: Cracking Open The Crate

Posted By Justin St. Louis On July 1, 2011

Categories: Under The Hood

What do these different divisions all have in common? Crate engines. (Alan Ward, Leif Tillotson, Justin St. Louis/VMM photos)PHOTO: What do these different divisions all have in common? Crate engines. (Alan Ward, Leif Tillotson, Justin St. Louis/VMM photos)

--by T.J. Ingerson
VMM Correspondent

I have been a spotter before, and it is not easy. It is extremely hard to process all the developments happening on every single lap. As you watch your car, you’re watching every other car as well. And if something happens, not only do you need to process that information, you need to clearly and accurately deliver that information to your driver. Definitely not as easy as it sounds.

Every driver is different in what they want to hear, and every spotter is different in their delivery. I was never a “cheerleader” spotter and rarely cheered my driver on over the radio. But, I also didn’t want to be talked to a lot as a driver the few times I ran with radios.

The situation in the Governor’s Cup last Sunday hurt a lot of drivers, and we all will remember Nick Sweet the most. But there is a reason why that team is the defending Thunder Road champion and a consistent front runner every week: They learn from their mistakes. Not only do they learn from their mistakes individually, they learn as a team. They’ll be a better race team. Everyone makes mistakes. What makes you great is if you learn from it. I think that speaks for itself.

If you have a scanner, bring it to a track some night. Listen to some of the drivers, spotters, and crew chiefs. I do.


It’s a constant hot topic among race fans all over the country. Some people like them, some people hate them, most people accept them. And there are a group of people that will downright trash them. But, some of those people who hate them couldn’t pick one out of a lineup. And many people, including myself, wouldn’t be able to tell who has one compared to who doesn’t without the firsthand knowledge. So what are they?

Crate motors.

The words ‘crate motor’ have seemingly become negative among racing talk in the region. Most negative comments are that crates restrict teams and that they make the racing poor. Cars are unable to pass because they all have the same horsepower, and train racing ensues.

But yet, if I took you to a race that featured both crate motor cars and “open” motor cars, you’d have a problem picking out cars that ran crate motors. Did you know that Chris Eggleston, the winner of ‘THE RACE’ in April at the North Wilkesboro Speedway, was driving in a crate motored car? Or that Wayne Helliwell was using his Ford Late Model crate motor at Lee USA when he won in the Pro Stock Six Pack Challenge?

Crate motors are not a negative as some people may believe. They allow teams to have a competitive engine at a reasonable price. While you may have one driver who can build his own motor for under what a crate motor would cost, you have ten other drivers who benefit from not having that ability. A crate motor option takes an open motor that could cost up to $15,000 and makes it not a necessity, giving racers a reliable, equally powered engine for less than half the price ($5,700 retail price from General Motors for a 603 crate motor).

General Motors’ benchmark, the “602” crate motor (also known as the CT350, “Circle Track 350”) can produce 350 horsepower at 5,000 rpm with a compression ratio of 9.1:1. Compression ratio is known as the ratio of the volume of the combustion chamber from its largest capacity (piston at the bottom of its revolution) to its smallest capacity (piston at the top of its revolution). The 602 motor uses iron Vortec cylinder heads that have 64cc (cubic centimeters) chambers. The combustion chambers are the top of the stroke where the both values are shut, and the spark plug ignites. It has a maximum recommended rpm of 5,500 rpm. It retails at $4,056 directly from Chevrolet.

The 602 crate motor is widely used motor option allowed in many divisions among many tracks. At both Albany-Saratoga Speedway and Devils Bowl Speedway, it is allowed in the NASCAR Modified, Pro Late Model, and Renegade divisions. At the Bear Ridge Speedway, it is allowed in the DIRTcar Sportsman Modified, Sportsman Coupe, and Limited Late Model divisions. Thunder Road’s Tiger Sportsman division utilizes it, and Airborne Speedway’s Sportsman and Renegade divisions use it. Riverside Speedway, Monadnock Speedway, Twin State Speedway, Canaan Fair Speedway’s dirt and asphalt tracks, and White Mountain Motorsports Park allow the motor in several divisions.

The General Motors “603” motor -- also known as the “ZZ4” -- is used by the American-Canadian Tour Late Models and most Late Model divisions at tracks around New England, and can produce 355 horsepower at 5,250 rpm with a compression ratio of 9:1. It utilizes aluminum heads that have 58cc combustion chambers, with a maximum recommended rpm of 5,800 rpm. It retails at $5,682 directly from Chevrolet. The 603 motor from ACT-approved satellite builder RPM Racing Engines sells for $6,832.57, and the price includes many additional extras. RPM Racing Engines will also seal any unopened factory crate engine for $200.

The “604” motor, known as the “Fastburn” crate engine, is utilized mainly in Super Late Model and Pro Stock racing. According to GM, it can produce 400 horsepower at 5,500 rpm at a compression ratio of 9.6:1. It has aluminum heads that have 62cc chambers, with a maximum recommended rpm of 5,800 rpm. It retails at $6,575 directly from Chevrolet.

Recently, Ford Racing has produced a duo of engines for Late Model and Super Late Model applications, known as the S347JR and the D347SR, respectively. The S347JR has very comparable specifications to the 603 GM crate motor, featuring 350 horsepower, a 10.5:1 compression ratio, and 64cc combustion chambers. It retails at $6,850 from RPM Racing Engines. The D347SR (comparable to the GM 604 Fastburn) produces 415 horsepower, 10:1 compression ratio, and 63cc combustion chambers. It retails $7,395 directly from Ford Racing.

The 602, 603, and 604 General Motors engines feature a 350 cubic inch displacement (CID) block, while the S347JR and the D347SR Ford engines feature 347 CID. Cubic inch displacement is the American measurement for engine displacement, which is the volume all the pistons displace as they move in a single movement, from the top of the stroke to the bottom of the stroke.

Since the beginning of organized racing, there have been drivers who complain about someone having more horsepower. That driver and team would either spend money to get a better motor, or deal with it. And most racers don’t just deal with it.

It’s why many tracks allow crate motors, and most racers use them. The rules don’t cater to “open” motors anymore, where having an open motor is a benefit. Having a crate motor, and knowing the five other drivers you’re parked around have one as well, makes you know you have a fighting chance when you show up at the race track.

In an economic time where money has been tight for all families, including racing families, if you can spend less on the motor and be just as competitive, you will. For every Richard Moody Racing or RPM Motorsports mega-team, you have three Jeff Whites who can still win with lower budgets. White probably wouldn’t be able to even run the ACT race without the benefit of ACT’s crate motor package.

I’m not trying to beat the ACT drum, but anyone who thinks crate motor racing is “boring” either doesn’t watch the races, or is just saying it for the sake of saying it. The equal engines aren’t what make some races boring.

I personally know someone who wasn’t too keen on crate motors until he raced with one. Now, he will use one in any racing venture he goes upon.

You’ll always have the top dollar teams who have the money to spend, who want to race the big motors at local tracks and series, and I’m sure those will never go away. But as I heard Airborne Speedway promoter Mike Perrotte say on VLF Radio a few weeks ago, he understands the importance of crate motors and while it won’t be a forced rule for the 358-Modifieds, it is a step for giving racers a price-conscious alternative without a vast performance difference.

Crate motors are here to stay. They’re not going away. If you don’t like “crate racing” as a fan, there are plenty of other options. But don’t be surprised if crate motors start creeping into those other divisions, too. It probably won’t be a forced option, but it definitely will be an option. Many drivers and teams who have gone with crate motors love them for their cost effectiveness. And if crate motors can put more cars on the track weekly, then I’m all for it.